Russian national, another charged in $1 billion money laundering scheme

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said two of the founders of Tornado Cash service operated a $1 billion money laundering scheme and worked with a North Korean cybercrime organization, the Lazarus Group. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI

Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Two men were charged Wednesday for operating a $1 billion money laundering scheme with their cash and crypto service, Tornado Cash.

Roman Semenov, 49, from Russia and Roman Storm, 34, of Auburn, Wash., were each been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act.

Each charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

The duo is also charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. This charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

"As alleged in the indictment, the defendants operated a $1 billion scheme designed to help other criminals launder and conceal funds using cryptocurrency, including by laundering hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of a state-sponsored North Korean cybercrime group sanctioned by the U.S. government," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

The organization Semenov and Storm allegedly conspired with was the Lazarus Group, an enigmatic network of cybercriminals performing cyberattacks and espionage under the North Korean government.

Semenov and Storm are two of the three founders of Tornado Cash. They allegedly created the service to execute untraceable money transfers, making millions in profits. Their work with the Lazarus Group took place in April and May 2022, according to the Justice Department.

The department alleges that the pair knew it was violating U.S. sanctions.

"These charges should serve as yet another warning to those who think they can turn to cryptocurrency to conceal their crimes and hide their identities, including cryptocurrency mixers: it does not matter how sophisticated your scheme is or how many attempts you have made to anonymize yourself, the Justice Department will find you and hold you accountable for your crimes," Garland said.